A recent study conducted by researchers at John Hopkins has looked at the immunotherapy drug, durvalumab and how it could be used to treat inoperable pleural mesothelioma.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a biological therapy that uses the body’s immune system to treat cancer. In some cases, the treatment aims to cause a reaction in the patient’s immune system to kill the cancer cells, in other cases the aim is to supress the natural immune response.

Immunotherapy is still a relatively new treatment for mesothelioma and, in the UK, is currently only available as part of clinical trials or on a private basis. It is not available on the NHS.

Mesothelioma is difficult to treat

Mesothelioma is an extremely difficult cancer to treat. Often patients are not diagnosed until the cancer has progressed significantly and for these patients, surgery is not an option. Surgery will not cure mesothelioma but it can help to relieve symptoms and provide a better quality of life, for a longer period of time.

Surgery is often combined with chemotherapy but chemotherapy can also be used alone for patients who are unable to have surgery or who do not want it.

The study

Researchers looked at patients with inoperable pleural mesothelioma to try and find a way to improve survival rates.

The study looked at 55 patients from across the US who had not yet received any treatment. They were given six treatments with the chemotherapy drugs, Alimta and cisplatin, along with the immunotherapy drug, durvalumab. The treatments were given every three weeks and then following the completion of the six treatments patients were given durvalumab alone for up to one year.

They found that the combination of treatments gave an improved survival rate when compared to patients who had only received the chemotherapy treatment. Dr Patrick Forde, lead researcher, wrote; “The chemo-immunotherapy combination improved overall survival to 20.4 months from the historically expected survival of 12 months with chemotherapy alone.”

Promising results

These results are extremely promising, indeed Dr Forde commented; “This is the first study to show survival times exceeding 20 months for patients with inoperable mesothelioma.”

In addition to the positive results, no patients in the study reported side effects serious enough to require them to stop receiving treatment.

Thanks to the great results, the study has now been able to move into Phase 3 and they will begin recruiting patients with mesothelioma later this year.

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Sources:

Forde, P, et al, “PrE0505: Phase II multicenter study of anti-PD-L1, durvalumab, in combination with cisplatin and pemetrexed for the first-line treatment of unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM)—A PrECOG LLC study”, ASCO Meeting Library, May 2020, https://meetinglibrary.asco.org/record/184552/abstract

“Research Story Tip: Chemotherapy/Immunotherapy Combo Shows Promise for First-Line Treatment of Mesothelioma”, Johns Hopkins new release, June 11, 2020, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/newsroom/news-releases/research-story-tip-chemotherapyimmunotherapy-combo-shows-promise-for-first-line-treatment-of-mesothelioma

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